Herbivory has significant impacts on individual plants and plant communities, both at ecological and evolutionary time scales. In this context, this study aims to evaluate herbivore damage and its relationship with leaf chemical and structural traits, nutritional status, and forest structural complexity along a successional gradient. We predicted that trees in early successional stages support conservative traits related to drought tolerance (high specific leaf mass and phenolics), whereas trees in light-limited, late successional stages tend to enhance light acquisition strategies (high nitrogen content). We sampled 261 trees from 26 species in 15 plots (50 × 20 m; five per successional stage). From each tree, twenty leaves were collected for leaf trait measures. Phenolic content increased whereas specific leaf mass and nitrogen content decreased from early to late stages. However, leaf damage did not differ among successional stages. Our results partially corroborate the hypothesis that early successional plants in tropical dry forests exhibit leaf traits involved in the conservative use of water. The unexpected decrease in nitrogen content along the chronosequence is likely related to the fact that thinner leaves with low specific leaf mass could have less nitrogen-containing mesophyll per unit area. Mechanisms affecting herbivory intensity varied across scales: at the species level, leaf damage was negatively correlated with tannin concentration and specific leaf mass; at the plot level, leaf damage was positively affected by forest structural complexity. Herbivory patterns in tropical forests are difficult to detect because abiotic factors and multiple top-down and bottom-up forces directly and indirectly affect herbivores.
Plant Ecology – Springer Journals
Published: Feb 8, 2018
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